Today’s MIT Technology Review details a new method of predicting adverse effects of new experimental drugs. Instead of waiting until late in the development process (like, say, clinical trials), a new combo of cells and software can predict side effects earlier:
…by profiling and comparing more than 100 known drugs, this latest research showed that many drugs could be grouped based on the way they influenced cells — rather than on their structure or the proteins they were targeting. Using this methodology, the researchers profiled the antidepressant sertraline, for example, showing that its profile for certain biochemical pathways was similar to many anti-cancer drugs, says Michnick.
The research analysed the way individual pairs of proteins interact in healthy cultured cells, by introducing engineering proteins that would bind to each pair and glow whenever they interact. The scientists were then able to use automated screening techniques to measure these interactions and where in the cell they occurred.
By comparing the normal responses of these pairs of proteins with those exposed to a particular drug, they built a picture of how that drug influenced the stages of each biochemical pathway. The researchers then used a simple computer model to categorize the drugs according to how they influenced these pathways. This allowed them to compare and ultimately predict the overall effect each of these existing drugs would have on cells. For example, four existing drugs currently not used for treating cancer were found to be grouped together with cancer-inhibiting drugs, suggesting that they had similar effects on inhibiting cancer growth, which was later verified.
Of course, this doesn’t obviate the need for clinical trials, but if pharm companies can reject stinkers earlier in the process, it might make drug development a little less risky and costly for them — which is good for everyone.
More from the abstract in Nature Chemical Biology